At Echo Research we are in the business of helping our clients understand the media landscape in which their brand appears and how best to interact with this media. Up until recently this was a relatively straightforward exercise, as we were largely dealing with established media sources whose reporting characteristics and target audiences were well known.
The advent of social media has added new colour and texture to this landscape. Where we were once surveying a level ground of almost predictable media channel behaviour, we are now facing a rocky terrain of communication uncertainty, ever-changing consumer engagement and a new breed of opinion leaders who can make or break reputation in minutes.
This outlook leaves many a communication team and brand manager with a dilemma: how to understand social media and make it work for their brand to achieve the most meaningful returns and levels of engagement. Crucial to understanding this landscape and how to engage with it is the need for social media measurement.
Here are my 7 considerations for social media measurement.
Understand why you are using social media channels: What is your business hoping to achieve through posting on these various channels? Define the outcomes you expect to see. Are they greater brand recognition? Rising follower numbers? A chance to grow customer base? Or are you doing it because you want to keep pace with your competitors? Without knowing 'why', you won't be able to develop the 'how' and the measurement of the 'what'.
Know the difference between social platforms: Not all social platforms are built equal. The scope for brands to promote themselves and the behaviour of fans are different on Facebook than they are on Twitter. As such, do not treat all fans and followers as equal. Target different fan demographics and the platforms they choose with different, tailored messages. Fans are individuals - hit them with messages and campaigns that are individual to them.
The KPI: develop a set of indicators that are in line with your business goals. Take time to think about point 1 so your approach to measurement is built around what you are hoping to achieve.
Measurement madness: just because something can be measured, doesn't mean you should. Start small with a concise number of KPIs that provide relevant and actionable measures for your business. More measurement produces more data. Bigger data produces headaches when it comes to extracting insight and intelligence.
Match KPIs with platforms: build metrics specific to each network. You cannot compare a fan with a follower, a like with a share, so don't try. Consider point 2 in order to determine useable KPIs on the platforms of choice.
Numbers game: fans and followers are more than simple subscriber numbers. Sure, you can measure a certain amount of success by rising numbers of fans and followers. However, to determine the value of these you need to understand who they are, their motives and intents. Are they passive subscribers or brand advocates? How do you interact with them and nurture their potential to be brand ambassadors? Never place too much value on follower numbers at the expense of sentiment and support.
Collect. Interpret. Learn: evaluate your measurement results and learn from them. Re-assess your KPIs and the social platforms you are operating in. Measurement is an ongoing and evolving process so continue to question 'why', 'how' and 'what'.
It's undoubtedly the summer of comic book and Sci Fi this year, traditionally a niche genre but with a summer line-up that includes Gravity, Elysium, Star Trek, Thor, Man of Steel, Oblivion, Enders Game, After Earth, Pacific Rim, R.I.P.D, The World's End, Riddick, there's a definite theme Hollywood is banking on this year.
Of course breaking from tradition always brings a certain amount of risk with it but in the modern consumer age it's safe to say that for the entertainment industry as a whole, the stakes and risks are higher than ever.
The cost of movie making and producing TV series has reached record levels. The huge investments needed to make and promote entertainment material, coupled with the blurring lines between TV/DVD and on demand internet services have lead to a many a sleepless night for those in the entertainment industry.
Marketing campaigns are more advanced than ever, going out across multiple platforms but there are other factors that affect the success of a new offering aside from how well it's publicised.
It's a question of Influence
Once the marketing and advertising was done, a successful TV show, band, play or film used to rely on media/critic reviews and simple word of mouth to promote themselves. To a certain extent, mediocre or badly received products could still find success because of how slowly this information passed.
The world today is dominated by social media. The benefits it provides for viral marketing are well known but the risks and problems it creates influencing the opinion of entertainment consumers are just beginning to be understood.
With so many viewpoints available, consumers are slowly moving away from the mainstream media outlets to guide them in choosing what entertainment to spend their money on as seen by the falling readerships of mainstream newspapers, falling TV viewership and the rise of so many blogs, websites and YouTube channels reviewing and commenting on film, TV and music.
Sentiment can, and in many cases is, now be led by bloggers and tweeters. Anyone with access to the internet can now be a potential critic, influencing the opinions of their small or large circles, who then in turn pass their opinion on to their circles, the ripple effect.
Of course this isn't revolutionary, most successful brands in the entertainment industry use services to collect this data to gain insights, warn them of potential issues that could threaten a new release's success but increasingly the question is becoming, 'What to do with the data?'
Many services provide big data, large clumps of volumetric stats such tweets, Facebook likes & numbers of fans or followers but this large data is increasingly leaving marketing less informed than when they started.
Not all social media data is pertinent. Sure, volume is always a great indicator but in the social media world you need the analysis agency to also understand the value of insight. Facebook likes for instance can be a questionable currency of measuring marketing success. Sometimes campaigns with a one off prize can get a brand huge numbers of Facebook likes at it will seem like job done. But measuring the volume of social media traffic aimed at your brand is only half the story.
A complete service agency needs to have the expertise to evaluate the full ecosystem of communications that come together to effect a brands reputation: Press releases, financial results, advertising, CEO statements, company messages, corporate CSR policy, what mainstream media is writing about the brand behind the release. Every one of these factors and more affects what is being said organically in blogs and forums as well as on Twitter and a brand's Facebook Page.
Focusing on just the sanitised social media space a brand creates for itself will not give an accurate or full story of how that brand is perceived or help to understand how each factor effects.
More than numbers
Insight, direction, answers. This is what marketers, Comms and PR professionals are looking for from media analysis, not just figures.
An entertainment brand and its offerings are affected by so many reputational factors that having a complete picture to make effective decisions means drilling down through the large data, finding the key influencers, identifying the issues that really matter, using human intelligence and experience to interpret the numbers and use them as supporting evidence for conclusions and recommendations.
Keen in the minds of consumer social marketers is getting measurable ROI on any campaign, promotion or initiative launched within the user generated space. The quick and easy approach to quantifying ROI is to try and put a value on the number of fans or followers a brand achieves at any given time. A notional value per fan multiplied by the number of fans achieved can result in a pretty solid ROI measurement.
But is this enough of a measure of the true value of a brand's fanbase, or perhaps more importantly, a measure of the true quality of each and every fan?
Attributing value to fans was a topic that came up for discussion at last week's #smlondon gathering hosted by Adobe's head of social strategy Jeremy Waite. During his chat about how social brands connect with their fanbase, he shared a slide which referred to an enlightening study by Syncapse which, through an 'Empirical Review', charted the Value of a Facebook Fan in 2010. Through a rigorous approach to valuating a Facebook fan, Syncapse could then enable consumer marketers and brand managers to better plan, execute and measure their return on Facebook investment, they said.
All good stuff. But in my mind there's a couple of points we can raise here: first this approach has solely looked at Facebook and clearly there are other impactful routes for social brand managers to use in targeting the consumer market. And second it assumes that by attributing all fans a value you have a sensible measure of success at any given point in time.
I'm no consumer marketer or brand manager so will not look further at routes to market. But coming from a background of content evaluation, I wanted to explore the idea of measuring success. I was intrigued by this approach and began to question whether putting a monetary value on a brand's social platform fanbase was a full enough reflection of fan or follower engagement.
It's not all about the numbers
Both consumer brands and consumers alike get satisfaction from seeing a growing number of followers and their expressions of appreciation (likes, shares, links-to and retweets). And given that a value can be attributed to all these fans and followers, rising numbers of supporters must mean that things are going in the right direction?
It is one thing to have fan and follower numbers rising, and assume that with this rise comes a rise in fan value. But it is something else to identify within those numbers the people who really count for a brand. Marketers can quite happily establish a monetary value per fan, but I was keen to look a little closer at the fans themselves: their affinities and loyalties. Who are a the advocates and loyalists, people who in my opinion hold huge inherent value to any brand that can't be easily measured by dollar signs alone? To separate the advocates from the generic fans and followers, we need to be clear on who an advocate is and what extended value they can bring to a brand.
Bottom line is an advocate is someone who stands out as wanting to repeatedly engage with a brand and others on behalf of that brand. Advocates are loyal, satisfied brand endorsers and customers. Brands will be short-sighted if they overlook these in the quest for more follower numbers. Numbers represent audience, but they are not necessarily followers who can bring about action or change regarding a brand.
The inherent value in advocates goes beyond propensity to spend on a brand; it goes towards driving and maintaining a consumer community engaged with the offerings of that brand. We know that brand advocates are 83% more likely to share content about your brand than standard fans (source: BzzAgent). We also know that 92% of consumers trust brand advocates (source: Nielsen). That's some real added value if brand advocates are identified correctly and nurtured by marketers and brand managers.
While Syncapse's approach holds some merit in measuring ROI, I believe that there are other factors in play that go beyond the attribution of a cash value to a fan, and these factors should also be considered when trying to put value on a fanbase volume.
In the work that we do here at Echo Research we frequently tackle the reputation gap; the difference between an organisation's identity (who they are, or think they are) and their reputation (what other people say they are, or believe them to be). It recently struck me that there is one aspect of my personal life where many comparisons can be drawn with my work providing insight into the reputation of financial services firms.
This is my dog (stick with me and you'll quickly see where I'm going with this).
He is eight years old and has lived with me since he was an eight week old scrap of fur that I could hold in my hands. He is a joy to be with, a wonderfully loyal companion and a much loved member of my family. He is also a Staffordshire bull terrier. How's that for a reputation problem?
The day to day reality of our life together is a million miles away from the image frequently portrayed in the media. He has never tried to maul me, or anyone else, in fact he has never shown the slightest amount of aggression towards a human being. He might lick you half to death, but that's about the worst of it. In the interests of full disclosure, I must tell you that he has had a few disagreements with other dogs over the past eight years, but then I too have disagreed with some of my own species in that time, so I try not to judge.
I'm not an apologist. I don't pretend to love all Staffordshire bull terriers and I'm not launching an impassioned defence of the breed, painting them all as little cuddle bunnies. That wouldn't be any truer than the vicious monsters often portrayed in the press. I certainly won't deny that that there are some SBTs harming their owners or in some very upsetting cases, being involved in the death of someone, as we've seen recently in the news. However, to generalise and make judgements based on a few bad examples is a dangerous game. Just like judging all financial services workers on the dubious actions of a small number of them is a risky business.
There is a tendency in the media to portray all bankers cackling maniacally as they deliberately destroy the global economy with one hand and stuff fistfuls of bonus money into their pockets with the other. Isn't it time that we took a step back and realised that just like the majority of Staffordshire bull terriers, the majority of financial services workers aren't rabid slathering beasts (to borrow some tabloid style hyperbole)? That they are in fact normal, decent members of society diligently trying to do their jobs?
Again, there is no point in denying the issues that the financial services industry continues to face, but it's time to get some perspective and to see that despite what the press chooses to print, the bad apples are not the norm. It's time that firms started to really look at their corporate identity, figure out who they are and who they want to be. Only then can they start to fix what has gone wrong and to take charge of telling their own, individual stories, to engage and connect with their stakeholders and to rebuild trust across the board. Until we start to regain a sense of identity from our banks, their reputation will remain in the hands of the media.
In light of the recent tragic events in the US it struck me how the way I receive and search for the latest news has changed and that social media is being used more and more as a real-time news network.
As I cultivated my Twitter account I began following the BBC and various other news accounts including industry specific tweeters. The more I did this the less I searched the news websites and only use these to get the full story if something in twitter grabs my attention.
I find that Twitter is the ideal place for breaking news. Usually when a story first breaks there may only be 140 characters worth of information anyway. The instant reaction to a story is what makes this process feel more human to me. The outpouring of public support and solidarity over Twitter that followed the Boston Marathon bombing was heart-warming and reassuring. It helped restore some faith in humanity and the hashtagging brings together an instant community which can offer support and information and critical times.
It brings another dimension to events when you hear about it first-hand. Witnesses to the marathon were tweeting and a Vine video of the first blast quickly engulfed social media. During the Texas factory fire a spectator took the time to film the explosions between running for safety and streamed it online. This type of coverage gives everyone access to instant reaction, true and immediate feelings and receiving the news as it happens (often while reporters are still rushing to the scene).
Social media also gave practical support to the Marathon bombings as Google launched a person finder and the FBI used crowdsourcing technologies to trawl spectators' cellphone photos, Vine videos, and Instagram feeds to look for potential suspects.
There is, of course, a downside to this unfiltered news format. Wrong information is often posted in haste leading to innocent people becoming suspects or inaccurate death tolls circulating. The New York Times posted that the death toll was at 12 when in fact, at that time, it was only two, having been retweeted, this incorrect information reached an astounding number of people who often read it as fact. A rumour also began that the son of actress Denise Richards was one of the victims when actually the real victim's mother just has a similar name. After the Texas explosion a photo was widely circulated showing a huge mushroom of smoke but was actually of a 2008 oil refinery explosion in Big Spring, Texas.
Although it is useful to have breaking news flagged up via social media, it should probably be seen as just that; 'flagging up'. The standard online news platforms still hold their prominent positions in bringing up to date, accurate news but social media is fast becoming the initial point of information for many as this infographic from SocialMediaToday.com shows.
Only 3 months in and already it has been one of the most tumultuous and topsy-turvy years for one of the biggest of the entertainment industries.
I'm talking of course, about gaming. Not the gaming as in Pacman, quarters and nerds, but gaming as in Call of Duty, billion dollar global brands and a industry overtaking the movie industry in revenue.
Yes, in this modern world, gaming is something to be taken seriously as an entertainment medium and as a business . The coverage we've seen coming from the industry event known as the Game Developers Conference (GDC ) is testament to that.
I think it's fair to say that gaming has had a few high profile issues so far this year. Two rather large releases (that shall remain nameless) have been met with less than rapturous acclaim from journalists and by the consumers themselves, gamers.
As a direct result of these two, very different releases, as different as say...... two simulated alien colonial cities **knowing wink from author**, the reputational damage to the publisher and developers behind them has been palpable. Armed with a righteous sense of indignity, an often tenuous grip of the English language and a host of platforms to vent their frustrations on, the sharp end of the gaming community has been very vocal indeed.
At GDC the legacy of these high profile incidents drove some of its major themes. The three big themes we saw coming out of GDC all predicted a future direction of the gaming industry and in fact all the talk of future & change was a strong theme in itself.
The year of next-gen...? Certainly
The year of indie..? Could well be
The year of mobile gaming...? This writer is still not convinced on that one.
When we monitored the online chatter around GDC this year, we saw the usual patterns of low engagement in the build up to the event, big peaks during the event and a gradual tail off of chatter post event. This is nothing surprising or out of the ordinary, that's what any PR or marketing exec would have predicted.
The interesting thing that did emerge from our look at the buzz was the difference in coverage from the two big competing hardware brands over the course of GDC, Playstation and Xbox (omitting Nintendo as their latest console is already out)
It should be noted that not every mention is specifically about the hardware but even so, Sony have announced their PS4 system but Microsoft have kept quiet as yet but almost certainly have a successor to the all conquering Xbox 360 and the smart money is on them unveiling it at their press event on April the 26th.
That tactic looks to have paid off as Xbox brand coverage wiped the floor in volume of mentions over Playstation brand coverage. Whether its games, hardware, rumours or expectant chatter from gamers, a large proportion of the online buzz seems to be about Microsoft's new system and this is some achievement given Microsoft's recent gaming reputational issues with Windows 8 and tight lipped silence so far, on the next generation.
Whatever this year holds for the gaming world, next gen consoles, the fall of the big publishers, the rise of the indie publishers, microtransactions, always online DRM, mobile gaming, scalable engines, destructible scenery, yearly sequels, android consoles or even VR, that the influence of consumer sentiment expressed through social media, forums and comment tails is now a bigger driving force for gamers' buying habits than a games marketing campaign.
Publishers now have a reputation defined by many influences, some out of their control. A CEO's statements about monetization now has a significant effect on a publisher's brand reputation and this brand reputation, based on how a publisher's business actions are interpreted by press and gamers are becoming as much as a driver for game buying choices as review scores.
In a year where the industry is looking to its future, often its focus due to the nature of the beast, it's this writer's opinion that game publishers should be looking at how their brands are truly seen now so that the bright next future actually materialises.
22 March marks UN Water's World Water Day. At a time when international media and public policy attention is focused on the future challenges of water, Echo UK Joint MD Sam Knowles considers how water use will impact on the operations and reputation of the global food industry in years to come.
As winter stubbornly refuses to release its grip on the year, the seven City Livery Companies who created and now de facto regulate the food industry gather together in the Guildhall to chew over the big issues of the day. The Fishmongers, Fruiterers, Farmers et al. - accompanied by esteemed industry guests - debate issues that may only be on the distant horizon for consumers, but will determine successful long-term planning for the major players in the industry. These are indeed the issues that will make and break companies, sectors and reputations in the decades ahead.
For the recent 2013 City Food Lecture, the theme was water. The brilliant Sheila Dillon from Radio 4's equally brilliant Food Programme was in the chair. Nestlé's CEO Paul Bulcke - add him to your growing list of famous Belgians - gave the keynote, titled "Water: the lynchpin of food security".
The lecture and debate that followed produced a dazzling array of choice statistics, statistics that I've gathered, filleted and served up to give a flavour of the scale of the water-related challenges - logistical, operational and reputational - that face the international food industry as it seeks to feed the world sustainably towards 2050.
- The world population will rise from 7bn to 9bn by 2050
- As the population grows and more of the world moves out of poverty, more people demand meat and dairy in their daily diet
- Meat consumption will increase 75% by 2050, dairy by 60%
- It takes 1,500 litres of water to produce 1kg of wheat, ten times the volume to produce 1kg of meat
- Water is a finite resource, and agriculture uses about 90% of the world's abstracted fresh water already. But 50% more water will be needed for food production by 2030 alone
- In the developed world, 10-15% of the household budget is spent on food. In developing economies, this figure is 40-70%. So 200% hikes in the cost of staples - as have happened in recent years - are much more damaging in the developing than developed world
- Water has been identified by the World Economic Forum as the second most important factor underlying potential global economic failure
- The search for alternatives to oil as a prime energy resource is building systemic distortions into the food market. To provide just 10% of global energy needs from biofuels would require a three-fold increase in total global food production and for all of that food production to be dedicated to energy not food production
- Globally, 50% of food is wasted - through poor transportation, ineffective distribution and simple waste. That equates to 1.3bn tonnes of food
- 30% of food in the UK is thrown away each year
Food - I'm sure you'll agree - for thought.
The dominant theme of the second, conference day of the World Federation of Advertisers annual Global Marketer Week in Brussels was purpose. Purpose. The role that brands play in people's lives beyond the purely functional; the role of brands in society; their responsibility for giving something back; how brands enable positive change; what brands stand for; what their higher sense of purpose is in the world.
Time and again, different presenters showed how brands with a purpose - a raison d'être beyond pure profit and market domination - are better able to start and sustain meaningful conversations with customers, consumers and stakeholders. In each case, this isn't about corporate philanthropy of its own sake; it's about doing well by doing good, whether the purpose delivers social, environmental or economic benefits.
Kimberly Kadlec, CMO of Johnson & Johnson, set the bar high by showcasing an inspiring range of real life stories that deftly demonstrated the purpose that J&J has written into the heart of its brands' DNA, and the way that it has embraced real-life storytelling to make each individual purpose come to life. She showed how social and digital technology - exemplified in J&J's YouTube platforms and health channels - have transformed how the company reaches, builds and sustains patient communities. And she revealed how the company has evolved and rewritten the classic 4 Ps of marketing, from Product, Place, Price and Promotion, to become Purpose, Presence, Proximity and Partnership.
The theme of purpose was picked up by Manuel Patricio, CMO of AB InBev, and by Marc de Swaan Arons, Executive Chairman of Effective brands, stepping in at the last moment for Antonio Lucio, the global CMO of VISA. They both talked a lot of hard commercial sense about purpose, as did representatives of both the WFA and Edelman, reporting back on two recent studies. The WFA had polled its own membership about purpose, and was sharing findings from 149 members worldwide. And Edelman presented the findings from its most recent "good purpose" study, the fifth consecutive, annual study, which interviews 500 consumers in each of 16 markets worldwide, in both developed and developing economies.
Some highlights of these parallel studies included:
- 56% of brand custodians think that consumers are happy if brands "do well by doing good". Consumers are rather more bullish - 76% of consumers are actively looking for brands to build purpose into their core proposition.
- Consumers don't just seek brands with purpose in developed economies. In fact, consumers in emerging, particularly BRIC-MIST markets are more prepared to pay a premium for brands with a purpose. For some emerging markets, indeed, consumers are twice as likely as their peers in developed economies to reward brands for attaching themselves to and espousing a strong and relevant purpose.
- These findings reflect the results of a global study done by Ebiquity's reputation practice, Echo, and Boston-based CSR PR firm Cone Communications in 2011.
- A purpose needs to be fit for purpose, and successful purposes are generations beyond simple cause-related marketing tie-ups. Marketers are sensitive to the need for appropriateness of purpose, with 57% agreeing that not every brand can have a purpose without it feeling contrived. This is something that an overwhelming majority believe brands should strive to avoid.
- The company generally agreed to have embraced purpose-led marketing to its heart most effectively is Unilever - think Omo/Persil's Dirt Is Good and Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty. Unilever was closely followed by P&G, Coke and McDonald's.
The day was rounded out by one of the most impactful marketers of his generation - Andy Fennell, global CMO of Diageo. He talked of Diageo being in the aspiration game, whether they're selling a bottle at $5 or $150,000 (the 60 bottles of 1952 vintage Scotch blended to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee), Diageo is inviting consumers to buy a product that is more expensive than it needs to be for purely functional effects.
Fennell moved talk of purpose on to focus on "endeavour", and revealed that the company always gets its brand managers to ask and answer the killer question "Why does my brand exist?" By stripping brand purpose back to bare bones, by relentlessly focusing on the role the brand plays in the lives of its consumers, Diageo - like some of its cutting-edge peers - is helping brands to consolidate their social utility, in addition to their functional and emotional utility.
|Titbit of the day: the inimitable, irrepressible Vice Chairman of Ogilvy, Rory Sutherland, was without doubt the star turn of the conference, engaging and lifting the room of 300 senior, post-lunch marketers with a canter through behavioural economics. The classic "Plink, plink fizz" line for Alka Seltzer - suggesting that users plinked two tablets into their tumbler of water rather than the usual observed behaviour of one - saw a sustained sales uplift of 65%.|
Ebiquity is the Effectiveness Partner of the WFA and sponsored the WFA's 60th anniversary dinner on Wednesday 6 March 2013 in Brussels.
The annual World Federation of Advertisers Global Marketer Week (#gmw2013) kicked off in earnest in Brussels yesterday. The highlight of the first afternoon was the presentation of the CMO World Tour by Frederic Colas (@fredcolas), Chief Strategic Officer of the Fullsix
In 2012, Fred took time out from a hectic marketing career to travel the world with his family, and during this time he interviewed and filmed world-leading CMOs about their personal use of social and digital media, how new media have changed their view of marketing, and how this has impacted upon their jobs. With the backing of Facebook, Colas has produced a low-budget, high-quality content snapshot of contemporary CMO opinion of the most talked about and misunderstood aspect of modern marketing.
Some consensus views emerging from Fred's research include:
- Social media makes the requirement for products to stand up to quality scrutiny - or else they'll go down in flames under peer review (Keith Weed, Unilever)
- Brand custodians ignore consumer influence at their peril. Those who succeed are harnessing the power of independent endorsement and commentary by actively letting go. Trying to control everything just leads to a loss of relationship and trust (Chris Burggraeve, AB InBev)
- CMOs have unanimously adopted digital as an owned and paid source of influence, but not necessarily in the earned media space. Many think it's just too risky to give up that much control
- Campaigns that win are those with B.I.T.E. - Built In Talkability and Engagingness (Vipul Chawla at Yum! Restaurants)
But in a spread that continually seems to beggar the rules of the normal distribution, most companies claim that they are actually lagging behind the drive to digital. The barriers Fred identified to more effective adoption of digital communications include:
- Risk aversion and fear
- Lack of knowledge
- Structure - both clients and agencies are not structured to follow and capitalise on engagement, communities and reaction. They're stuck in silos that actively block progress
- The lost generation of 30-something marketers controlling budgets who are neither digital natives nor being dragged by their bootstraps into the digital age by their tweenage and teenage children
- Client and agency processes moving too slowly to adapt to the speed of the outside world
But these barriers, reasons and excuses are starting to wear thin, particularly as many brands are starting to make real progress and deliver genuine, measureable ROI through digital.
|Titbit of the day: we learned that more people are connected to mobiles than to running water in India - one of those killer stats you want to repeat until mobile marketing properly takes off.|
Ebiquity is the Effectiveness Partner of the WFA and sponsor of the WFA's 60th anniversary dinner on Wednesday 6 March 2013 in Brussels.
The Mobile World Congress kicked off this week in Barcelona, hot on the heels of Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Manufacturers from across the world are clamouring to excite and generate buzz for their upcoming offerings this year. But it is increasingly apparent that capturing the consumer market's attention is becoming a trickier prospect.
After our Technology Sector Head Sabine Pevy's recent look at the buzz around the 2013 Macworld/iWorld event, we saw - through our informed reading of social media content - that consumers were less engaged with that event than in previous years. Post event social media chatter trailed off quickly and online news coverage was more focused on celebrity appearances than on tech innovations. The general pervading feel of consumers and commentators was 'meh', to coin a phrase. There was nothing on display to excite the consumers.
Apple hit upon this truism early on, and now the rest of the tech industry are catching up: creating hype and buzz about 'game changing' products coming in the future is key to cementing the all important attribute of any technology company's brand reputation, Innovation.
Companies like Apple and Nintendo have enjoyed so much success in recent years because their products have changed the face of the market they are aimed at and made previously 'geeky' tech into desirable, mainstream lifestyle accessories. iPod changed the way people viewed music as iPhone did for smart phones, iPads did for tablets and the Wii did for games consoles.
So why do we no longer see the excitement and anticipation focused on industry trade events that we saw during the 'noughties' and specifically when it comes to upcoming mobile releases? A decline in that excitement has been reflected in the dipping share prices of some of the biggest and most highly regarded mobile and tech firms.
I think there are three principle reasons why the thrill has gone: blurring of the lines, saturation and the right fit.
Blurring of the lines
The first mobiles were just phones for, you know, phoning people. Then we had phones and text messages. Then gradually manufacturers combined phones with other devices such as mp3 players, cameras, low-level gaming devices and satnav.
But now we are at a stage where the list of potential gadgets that it is possible to merge into a mobile handset is thinning - there's an App for everything - and it's becoming harder and harder to make a handset that contains a unique feature list.
Most new models now sell themselves as 'faster', 'thinner' or with more mega pixels crammed into the camera, but this simply does not excite the wider consumer market in the same way as seeing a phone with a camera for the first time. Mobile providers will attest to the fact that more and more, customers are not upgrading at the end of their contracts as the prospect of paying more for seemingly slight improvements on the model they already have isn't so appealing.
And on the first day there was Symbian, and for a time it was good. Then God created Blackberry. and the two lived peacefully and for a time it was good. Then lo, iOS was born unto us and united together, we proclaimed "this is the new messiah!" But as Symbian faded from memory, Android rose to challenge iOS and behind it, many false idols sprung up.
The choice of mainstream smart phone by the end of this year will be the biggest it's ever been with new companies entering the market place. By the end of the year there will be six major competing phone operating systems.
For anyone who doesn't understand what terms like 'jailbroken', 'Tegra GPU' or 'Android rooting' mean, it is an overwhelming set of choices with no clear advantage to be had by buying into one or the other. I think we will start to see that more choice means less migration, as consumers will increasingly stick with what they know.
The right fit
The technological environment consumers now create for themselves encompasses Smart TV's, computers, laptops, tablets, consoles, and a myriad of other WiFi-connected, lifestyle-improving devices. Consumers buying choices for mobiles are increasingly dictated by what they already own and how it will fit into that ecosystem.
For instance a person who uses Apple computers, tablets and Apple TV, is not likely to pick a Nokia Windows 8 phone as the connectivity will be a problem. Some companies are pushing for universal standards of connectivity, most notably Android based platforms, but with natural competition between rival standards, proprietory systems are still rife. This is a less direct factor than the other two but is still contributing to the growing disinterest from consumers in upcoming devices.
The way forward
There is no right answer to give to companies struggling to captivate consumers who have seen 'the next big thing' a few too many times, but one thing is certain: to succeed in such a fast-moving and crowded marketplace, brands must be clear and effective in the messages they outwardly communicate and make sure they truly understand not only the changing needs and interests of their consumers, but that they each have a distinct 'character', a brand reputation governed by how they are spoken about by an ever-growing number of commentators, many of them citizen journalists.
The way that these commentators write about the brands and shape the reputation in the eyes of consumers is not just based on how many mega pixels have been added to the latest handset. It's based on how a company acts, what its staff say, what it's seen to stand for and how many of its marketing promises are delivered in its products.
It's never been harder to engage, but it is getting easier to understand how to.